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The Best Air Purifiers for Cleaner Air—Plus What to Look for When Buying One for Your Home

Cleaner air at home has never been easier.
By Kelsey Ogletree
March 18, 2021
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If you never considered the air quality inside your home before, you likely did during the COVID-19 pandemic and West Coast wildfires. The global market for portable air purifiers grew 57 percent in 2020 and is expected to continue to grow over the next two years, according to a recent Verify Markets report. And even if you think the air in your home is clean, that might be wishful thinking: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of some pollutants can be two to five times higher inside our homes than outdoors.

With that in mind, it makes sense to invest in an air purifier for your home. But what should you look for, and what features do you need to consider when buying an air purifier? We talked with air quality experts to answer those questions and provide recommendations on the best air purifiers. Take a peek at the best air purifiers below, or read on for tips on shopping for air purifiers—and more info on our picks.

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How indoor air becomes polluted

Three primary sources contribute to indoor air pollution in most homes: people, chemicals, and biological materials, says Marla Mock, vice president of operations for Aire Serv, a Neighborly company.

So how do you and your family contribute to poor air quality in your own home? People (along with pets) shed skin and hair nearly constantly. Skin cells are a primary food source for dust mites, which then become a source of indoor air pollution, Mock says. Dust mite allergies can be moderate to severe, and the problem is exacerbated when we have poor ventilation. Plus, the more people you have indoors, the more carbon dioxide is being exhaled, which further degrades air quality.

Chemicals inside your home known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be released from furniture, cabinetry, paint, cleaning supplies, and more, Mock says, and are more prominent in new homes or recently remodeled homes.

Biological materials include mold, viruses, and bacteria, which is among the top concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bacteria and viruses can enter the home through human activity, but also through food, pets, and poor ventilation, Mock says. She also says mold levels that can be damaging to your health and the indoor air quality are usually associated with water leaks and/or high humidity levels.

Why air quality matters for health

How air quality affects people really depends on the individual and how sensitive they are to pollution, which can vary by age, physical condition, the presence of chronic conditions, and other factors. But in general, particulates in poor-quality air inside your home can cause irritation to your respiratory system, aggravate asthma and other breathing disorders, or even contribute to more serious breathing issues like lung infections, Mock says.

VOCs are even scarier: Not only does inhaling these put you and your family at higher risk for allergies and other irritations, but they can even cause permanent damage to the liver, kidneys, and brain, Mock says.

Fortunately, air purifiers can help improve your indoor air quality, protecting you somewhat from these risks.

Types of air purifiers

There are four different types of home air purifiers.

Media air purifiers

Also known as traditional air purifiers, these use air filtration to clean the air in your home. With a system of fans or by running as a part of your home’s current HVAC system, this particular purifier drives air through a single or series of HEPA filters.

UV air purifiers

UV air purifiers use shortwave ultraviolet light to kill or neutralize pathogens commonly found in the air. UV air purifiers are utilized in combination with other air filters to trap and eliminate larger particulates in the air.

Media air purifiers with photocatalytic oxidation (PCO)

These types of air purifiers use the power of a media air purifier with the added benefit of a PCO filter and a UV light. PCO filters are treated with titanium dioxide, which helps catch most air pollutants. A UV light shines on the filter, eliminating the particulate.

Electronic air cleaners (EACs) or ionizers

EACs, also known as ionizers or electronic air purifiers, purify the air using filters that are electrically charged. Most HVAC systems have a pre-filter that captures large particles in the air, followed by electrically charged filters that trap smaller particles using this electrical charge.

While HVAC and filtration systems across homes can vary, most air purification systems nowadays use a mix of the purifiers listed above, known as combination air purifiers.

What to look for when shopping for air purifiers

When you're in the process of finding the best air purifier for your home, you'll need to choose between a whole-house unit or a portable unit. The main difference between the two is price and capacity, Mock says. The size of your air purifier should match your goals for buying one in the first place. Are you wanting to purify the air inside your entire home at once, or are you looking to purify a limited space (such as a bedroom, living room, or kitchen)?

If you're building a new home, it's recommended to invest in a whole-house air purifier, Mock says. The cost is high, but you can rest assured that the air running through your AC system is being purified. Portable air purifiers, on the other hand, offer the same type of filtration as whole-house purifiers, except they can only clean the air in a limited space.

A big thing to keep in mind with air purifiers is to look for one with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration, which will help to eliminate the smallest of air particles found in homes.

"There are a lot of air purifiers on the market that are touting newer forms of technology, but those methods can often do more harm than good," says Glory Dolphin Hammes, CEO of IQAir North America, council-certified indoor environmentalist, and certified air filtration specialist. It's not uncommon for that technology to release negative ions back into the atmosphere or to create additional ozone, she adds.

A HEPA filter will capture common allergens such as dust, pollen, and pet dander, along with more harmful substances such as gases and smoke, Hammes says. Air purifiers won't necessarily remove particles such as coronavirus from the air—but when used in conjunction with ventilation (think opening windows and doors), they can greatly reduce the amount of lingering airborne droplets containing the virus, she says. Even post-pandemic, air purifiers with HEPA filtration will be your best bet for removing everyday pollutants from the air inside your home and helping to keep allergies at bay.

Another factor to consider when buying an air purifier, particularly a portable one, is the noise factor. "You don't want to hear a loud humming all day and night," Mock says.

The best air purifiers

For a whole-house air purifier, you'll want to speak with an HVAC specialist—a large purifier like that will require installation and is a major investment. But you don't need to install a whole-house purifier to see the benefits of air purifiers on your health and overall indoor air quality, Mock says. It can be hard to know what type of portable machine to buy, with so many options out there. Take a look at this list of best air purifiers to find one that suits your needs.

Best Air Purifiers - Best Budget Buy: Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier
Credit: amazon.com

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Best budget buy: Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier

$85, amazon.com

This portable air purifier stands just over 10 inches tall and weighs 8.5 pounds. With a HEPA air filter and UV light sanitizer, it’s said to reduce 99.7 percent of harmful germs, dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and other allergens in the air, in rooms up to 153 square feet. It has 4.7 stars with than 33,000 reviews on Amazon.

Best Air Purifiers - Best for Households with Pets: Levoit Air Purifier
Credit: amazon.com

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Best for households with pets: Levoit Air Purifier

$100, amazon.com

Reviewers tout this model’s quiet power and effectiveness on Amazon, where overall reviews give it 4.7 stars. Shaped like a sleek white cylinder, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than some of the larger models of air purifiers out there. It features a HEPA filter as well as an activated carbon filter to trap 99.97 percent of fine particles and allergens, including pet hair and dander, in spaces up to 219 square feet.

Best Air Purifiers - Dyson Pure Cool Link Tower Purifier Fan
Credit: walmart.com

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Best splurge: Dyson Pure Cool Link Tower Purifier Fan

$380, walmart.com

OK, so we all know Dyson is a pricey brand—but one that’s earned a cult following for good reason. This modern purifier circulates purified air with a high-velocity fan function alongside a sealed HEPA and activated carbon filter to clean the air. It’s effective in rooms up to 300 square feet.

Best Air Purifiers - Honeywell True HEPA Air Purifier
Credit: amazon.com

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Best for large rooms: Honeywell True HEPA Air Purifier

$226, amazon.com

It’s not the prettiest air purifier of the bunch, but this hefty 22-inch purifier will do exactly what it promises: clean the air in extra-large rooms (up to 465 square feet) and capture up to 99.97 percent of airborne particles. Nearly 10,500 reviewers on Amazon have rated it an average of 4.7 stars.

Best Air Purifiers - Best for Design Lovers: Coway Airmega Mighty Air Purifier
Credit: walmart.com

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Best for design lovers: Coway Airmega Mighty Air Purifier

$200, walmart.com

If you’re looking for an air purifier that you won’t mind leaving out when company’s over, look no further. This compact, square-shaped air purifier has a unique look, comes in shiny black or white, and backs up form with high-quality function. It purifies rooms up to 361 square feet with four stages of air filtration through a HEPA filter, and also has an odorization filter and an energy-saving eco mode.

best air purifiers - Best for Travel: IQAir Atem Desk Personal HEPA Air Filter
Credit: amazon.com

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Best for travel: IQAir Atem Desk Personal HEPA Air Filter

When someone in your family has a respiratory condition, you may need to take air purification more seriously—and that means bringing your own when you’re on the road. While not quite small enough to stick in a carry-on, this air purifier is pretty portable for car trips where you’ll be staying overnight in a hotel or another home away from home, purifying rooms up to 150 square feet. It can be controlled via an app on your phone, too.